Running against the clock, Michigan on Friday asked the Supreme Court to allow the state to enforce a ban on “straight-ticket” voting ― the practice of voting for all the candidates of the same party by marking a single box on a ballot.
Michigan allowed straight-ticket voting for 125 years, but lawmakers eliminated it in late 2015 ― setting the stage for a legal challenge to the ban, which advocates said disproportionately affected African-American voters.
A lower court in May agreed and concluded that the straight-ticket ban amounted to a likely violation of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ― in part because implementing it for the November election would cause voter confusion and increase wait times at polling stations.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit largely upheld that ruling last month. But on Thursday the full court split sharply on whether to rehear the case, with a majority declining to do so and six judges dissenting.
“The will of Michigan’s people, expressed through their legislature, was to have the same system as the large majority of states, containing the large majority of voters, of all types of races and parties,” wrote one of the dissenting judges.
In its emergency request to the Supreme Court on Friday, the state included this and other case history, insisting that requiring voters to vote for individual candidates ― rather than in one shot for a party’s entire ticket ― doesn’t harm Michigan voters and is in fact accepted across much of the country.
“Michigan has joined 40 other states by requiring voters to actually vote for each candidate they intend to support — in other words, by eliminating straight-ticket voting,” read the state’s filing, which was addressed to Justice Elena Kagan. “This change is not a burden on voting — it is the very act of voting.”
Lawyers for the state set a hard deadline of Sept. 8 for the court to act, pointing to ballot printing deadlines set by law and other logistics ahead of Election Day. Perhaps to account for that timeline, Kagan asked proponents of straight-ticket voting to respond to Michigan’s request by Sept. 7.
In light of the Supreme Court’s makeup and the divisiveness of voting rights matters, it’s unlikely a majority of the justices will side with Michigan’s request. One voting rights expert, Richard Hasen, predicted the state’s chances weren’t that good.
Friday’s filing is the latest in a string of actions the Supreme Court has been asked to take to put on hold lower court rulings that could impact the November elections. Its most prominent move so far, an order preventing North Carolina from enforcing its restrictive voting law, found the justices divided across ideological lines.